' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: h♥le cont.: As a first mother, testifying for adoptee rights in New York, 1976

Sunday, April 30, 2017

h♥le cont.: As a first mother, testifying for adoptee rights in New York, 1976

By 1976 the New York state legislature amazingly enough is considering a bill that will allow individuals born and adopted in New York to obtain their original, unamended birth certificates.

Florence [1] is planning a lawsuit to have the amended birth certificates be declared unconstitutional, but holds back now. If New York’s law fell, could the rest of the country be far behind? Florence and I troop up to Albany with a handful of others—adoptees, adoptive parents, a phalanx of psychologists and social workers, attorneys, adoption-agency heads, and another natural mother who turns out also to be an adoptee, a double-whammy that is way more common than most people know.[2]

“If I had known that someday I could meet my daughter it would have been
so much easier to sign those papers, “ I say, speaking in a microphone in a
cavernous and largely empty chamber, looking up at the men sitting high above
me—maybe they aren’t so far above me but that’s how I remember it—the men
who could change the rules looking down on us. “My social worker and I went
over this point again and again and again. Never, never, could I see her, not ever,
time heals all wounds, she would say. It does not heal this one.”

I am asked about the women who do not want to know the children they
gave up for adoption—do I agree that they have the right to not have their
identities revealed?
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“No, I don’t.” You have a child, you owe them an identity, you owe them at least this—their place in the chain of life.”

But Senator Joseph Pisani, co-chair, needs more convincing: “Suppose she said, ‘I don’t want anyone to know anything about me. This is a final act on my part and one of the considerations of surrender of this child is that I retain anonymity for the rest of my life. I want to get it behind me.’ Let’s assume she has that attitude. Right, wrong, or indifferent. Should she be entitled to have it as a matter of right, or should she, somewhere down the line, suffer the trauma of a confrontation?”

Trauma of confrontation—from her own child? How about surfeit of joy instead? I mentally respond. Besides what gives her the right to deny a person knowledge of his ancestry, his history--hit mother? Because she is going to be embarrassed? But this is not a time to be flip.

“A, I don’t believe a confrontation would be traumatic. And B, No, I don’t
believe she has the right to that privacy. I think that woman’s right is infringing
upon the rights of adoptees.”

Somewhere in the room, a man lets out a loud, disgusted sigh. I turn to look
at him. He is Shad Polier, the attorney representing the Louise Wise Services. The
enemy. Tall, distinguished, a graybeard. The old order.

I refer to one of the earlier speakers, a representative of the New York
Foundling Home, who spoke of the adoptees who come back looking for names
and answers. She said her agency had found about half of the hundred or so
women adoptees had asked them to look for in the last year. No one on the panel
had asked her how many of the mothers refused to meet their children;  I had
sought her out during a break before I spoke. “I asked her how many women did
not want to meet their children—the ones they contacted,” I speak loudly into the
microphone now: “It turns out there were none. She said that there was one that
was reluctant at first, and then changed her mind.”

Then the other side is up. Polier goes on in a windy, sonorous voice for a
long time. He is here today, he says, to speak for the poor, downtrodden “girls” the
agency had helped by placing their children. He rattles on about how the poor
women/girls who give up their children go into hiding, how they never want be
reminded of this trauma. I am the outlier, the unusual exception. His lengthy
soliloquy is peppered with words such as “disaster,” “havoc,” “pathology,”
“harmful.” He makes me furious. He knows nothing. [6]

The next morning my picture is on the front page of The Knickbocker News, the
newspaper in Albany where I had been a reporter after my daughter's birth. There
had been no possibility of going back to my going back to the newspaper in
in Rochester whereI was working when I became pregnant. Her father was the
political columnist; the scandal of my pregnancy precluded my going back. I had
to move to another city. In fact, my old boss at the paper in Rochester--who eventually
knew about our affair and our baby--helped me get the job in Albany. Now I had gone
fromcovering the news in Albany to being the news. I had revealed something I once
had been so freaked out by that I even had lied to doctors when they asked if I’d ever
been pregnant. Oh no, not me!

Three months later riding uptown on a jammed New York City bus, sweaty bodies stuffed like olives in a jar—there is no air conditioning—I am reading the Times and come upon Shad Polier’s obituary. With some amazement I read that Polier had been one of the many lawyers involved in the defense of the Scottsboro boys, but am not surprised that he had drafted the first law in New York terminating parental rights. The obit includes nothing about his grinding opposition to giving adopted people their rights. I want to point out the good news to the person sitting next to me. I want to say, Look, the enemy is dying off, they will all be dead, and we will win this yet, do you know what great news this is, that Shad Polier can no longer testify against us?

What was not in the obit was that Shad Polier had been married
to the daughter of Louise Wise, whose namesake agency he
represented.[3] The Wise name is mentioned several times in the obit, but I would not learn
that crucial link until I looked him up online years later. The legislature in Albany offered a
prospective  bill—the original birth records would be open for adoptions only that occurred
after the bill became law. It excluded anyone adopted from 1935 until the new law went
into effect. It would not affect my daughter, me, or thousands of others. Florence was livid.
“The only adoptees affected positively by this bill are those who have just been conceived!!!”[4]
she opined in her irrefutable logic. The others would be forgotten.

She had too many plaintive letters from people in their seventies and eighties to
quietly fold her tent and disappear.  She took the fight to the courts, hoping that
one good decision would open the records for adoptees everywhere, since it was
generally assumed that we would have to go all the way to the Supreme Court to
get these laws repealed. Using ALMA members as the basis for a class action suit,
she filed a federal lawsuit[5]against New York’s sealed adoption records law. The suit
claimed that the right to know one’s origins was found in the First, Thirteenth, and
Fourteenth Amendments. In brief, adopted people were denied the right to useful
information and ideas (First Amendment); adopted people bore a badge of slavery,
just as slave children were sold before they were able to know their parents and were
foreverdenied the right to know their parents (Thirteenth); adopted people were made
a“suspect class” by being deprived of information that the rest of us have; and their
right to privacy infringed, by not allowing them knowledge of their own origins

We lost. We lost in the district court for the Southern District, we lost on
appeal, and the Supreme Court refused to hear our case. The reasons given:
unsealing the records would not only disrupt the adoptive family, it would have a
negative effect on adoptions to come—that is, that because natural mothers might
be found one day, they would not give up their babies. Despite how skewed this
argument is, or how presumptive, or how dated it sounds, such was the logic of a
Judge James L. Oakes who wrote the opinion. If women couldn’t be assured of
anonymity, they wouldn’t keep the adoption mills churning. Today we know that
whether birth certificates are sealed or not has absolutely no effect on the rate or
adoptions—or abortion.--lorraine from hole in my heart: memoir and report from 
the fault lines of adoptionPrevious excerpts available in scroll; go to Home Page, 
and scroll down. 

[1]Florence Fisher, who jump-started the modern adoption reform movement. Her
impact on the adoption reform movement cannot be overstated. For many years
she was the face of adoption reform and search in the media, as well the the leader
of the legal quest for open records. She retired from adoption work some years
ago. She is the author of The Search for Anna Fisher.

[2]Joint Public Hearing, New York State Senate/Assembly: Sealed Adoption Records and Identity, April 28, 1976.  Retrieved at http://web.archive.org/web/20081109045659/http://www.bastards.org/activism/local/ny/hearings.html

[3]Louise Wise Services went out of business in 2010 after a couple of well-publicized
lawsuits. In one, a couple was  told that they were adopting the son of a bright, accomplished
college student who helped support her mother and whose fiancé had unexpectedly died,
and she got pregnant soon after during a rebound affair. In fact, the mother was a
lobotomized schizophrenic, and the father was also a mental patient;  the couple conceived
when both were institutionalized. At the adoptee’s insistence, his parents sued Louise Wise
Services. He had schizophrenia and died at 29 of undetermined causes. The agency also
separated identical twins as part of a social experiment.

[4] Carp, pp. 178-181.

[5] Alma Society, Inc. v. Mellon, 601 F.2d 1225 (2nd Cir., 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 995, (1979).

[6] What is so pathetically striking about Polier's dire prognostications--and even the words he used-- is that they are the same ones used by the opposition judges when we testified in New York City in 2014, when it appears we had a shot at getting a clean bill without a veto passed. In a half century, hardliners against opening records are the same broken record. Have they no pity, have they no heart, have they lost the ability to understand that a woman's right to anonymity in the case of childbirth is no right at all, but a ill-conceived social contract that denies others the right of self-governance? The tenacity this old mindset has on judges and legislators baffles me, for it condemns adoptees to a permanent childhood without the basic right to self-knowledge and awareness, while the world around us has changed.

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  1. Thank you Lorraine for testifying then and continuing to support adoptees in the effort of access to our records. Crazy that it is still such a struggle even now.

  2. Thank you for all your support!

  3. Surfeit of SadnessMay 2, 2017 at 3:14 PM

    Thank you for your voice, courage, bravery, and moxie to speak out for so many of us. May I find a silver of your courage in moving forward from the pit of sadness, secrecy, and shame. You are one of my heros.

    1. DITTO and special thanks for trying to help B Mom's and adopted children, who may never know their much needs medical history, or roots.

  4. Bull beans! They use the same old tired, selfish, evil argument/s because they want adoptees to be FOREVER the children of the adoptive parents. It has next to nothing to do with some timid little mouse cowering in shame in the corner (which many of us were at one time or another).

    They use those arguments because they want the adoptee owned forever, never permitted by law or human decency to acknowledge or receive information about any other parental connection TO life. Maybe in calling us birth parents, in their silly land of opposite reasoning, they are death parents after all. How many adoptees, mothers, fathers, others? have died due to the immense suffering from this abominable practice and ensuing cover-up and lies and refusal of others to allow the truth?! Some also do not want their dirty, deceitful, duplicitous, evil practices of coercion and force on a grand scale to come out in numbers that could show the world that this country's adoption practices have been and too often still are JUST AS VILE as all the other countries that have made the news. They want adoptees or REAL parents to die off so the secrets and the ownership of the child 'dies' in the care of the adoptive parent/s. So sick and tired of the lies and bs that are used to continue this immoral travesty.

    Hyperbole? Only in your(gen.) fertile imagination. Walk in the land of the adopted or real parents and you will end up in this land of reality and will stop your silly, frightened, selfish dismissals of the words of those who have walked this sorrow.

    It is "still such a struggle even now" as adoptee123 says, because too many people are PC and pussyfoot around other people's feelings in trying to be polite, to not offend, yet completely sidestepping that THIS abomination is one of the VERY GREATEST OFFENCES KNOWN TO MANKIND (Unless you're a salesperson of human flesh or a receiver of same with intent to claim ownership instead of second parentage.)

    So let's not bruise somebody's wittle feewings. Let's let MILLIONS suffer even greater wounds all because somebody or lot's of folks might get their poor wittle feewings hurted. Adoptees feelings matter too. They are human too. Their needs are as important and in this case of opening records, MORE important than those of ANY others involved.

    I'm tired of the suffering that is endured by adoptees, their children, the real parents and all those around them who are so deeply affected by these cowardly, hurtful, selfish practices.

    For those of a religious persuasion, the first on the list that the bible says WON'T be in the Kingdom (given eternal life) are the COWARDLY. Just something to chew on while giving this a good think.



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